As we celebrate Women’s History Month we honor one of these amazing women, Manami Matsumae. All of the best games perfectly balance the story, gameplay, visuals, and music. Each can make or break a game, with the soundtrack being of equal importance as any other element. Games with iconic music have a lasting effect—often standing outside of gameplay. How often have you listened to a game soundtrack all on its own? Now, how often have you played a game with the music turned off? A musical composition can invoke emotions, trigger memories, and bring us back to moments on our journey. Some composers consistently create iconic and memorable music—with Manami Matsumae ranking among the best.
If you were a Mega Man fan during the NES era, chances are you’ve heard Manami Matsumae’s work. Starting her career off at Capcom, Matsumae is famous for composing the original Mega Man’s music. A soundtrack that is easily among the best of the NES era. Each track is synonymous with not only the Blue Bomber but also Wily and his evil Robot Masters. Every track in Mega Man is rhythmic, melodic, and distinct. Listening to these chiptunes is like a splash of ice-cold 1987 nostalgia.
Before she departed from Capcom, Matsumae worked on Mega Man 2 alongside Takashi Tateishi. Composing the iconic opening sequence as well as the Air Man’s Stage composition. Matsumae also created the F-1 Dream, Dynasty Wars, U.N. Squadron, and Final Fight arcade soundtracks.
Following this period, Manami Matsumae went on to become a freelance video game composer. Working on dozens of games over her life-long career. While her work stands on its own, she often collaborates, and her Jade Cocoon 2 collaboration with her husband Kimitaka Matsumae is a favorite.
Decades later, Matsumae came full circle and composed Robot Master themes for Mega Man 9 and Mega Man 10. She later developed the music for Mega Man’s spiritual successor, Mighty No. 9. Video game development and music composition are frequently completed in parallel, and Matsumae’s inspiration often comes from material assets provided during production.
In a 2013 interview, while composing for Mighty No. 9, she cited the influence of the character art and overall world design in her arrangements. She separately noted that she strives to give each individual game music unique to each atmosphere. Her consideration of all game elements is clearly one reason she contributes so profoundly to a game. Matsumae has also referenced the influence of her former mentors, quoting one as saying, “it’s important to keep game melodies simple and easy to remember, otherwise the music will get lost in the game, and the player won’t even notice.” Yet another example of her attention to detail and strength in creating a holistic and memorable sound.
Manami Matsumae continues to create incredible soundtracks and compositions as co-director of Brave Wave and freelance composer in Japan. Most recently, composing music for the amazingly successful Kickstarter indie game, Shovel Knight. Yet another game inspired by Mega Man. Her beautiful music and well-earned reputation bring something exceptional to each of her projects. I know I have been excited by a new game purely because of her involvement despite knowing little about the game.